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Organic blueberry farm highlights its own ecosystem

One of the most exciting times of year is blueberry season in Quebec. We are lucky enough to be surrounded by so many blueberry farms in the Valley that provide us with a wide variety of options. The Bleuetière La Grande Ourse is an organic blueberry farm in Saint-Chrysostome that aims to create a unique experience for every one of its visitors.

Owner Michael Talbot dives into the history of the farm: “It’s a farm that we started at ground zero. We started six years ago in Saint-Chrysostome with the goal of starting a blueberry farm that is entirely organic. There hasn’t been agriculture in the past 30-40 years on the farm that we purchased. It was easy for us to start an organic blueberry farm.”

The farm started out with approximately 500 blueberry plants. There are now over 3000. Talbot explains, “We have 13 varieties of blueberries. They start [fruiting] around the first weekend in July and last to the end of August. All the types have different flavours and also have different uses.” Three years ago, an organic vineyard was begun as well and is in the process of being developed.

 

Michael Talbot and his wife Véronique Thibodeau in one of their blueberry fields at the Bleuetière la Grande Ourse PHOTO Bleuetière La Grande Ourse

 

One of the most exciting things about the farm is its herd of Highland cows, which started with seven head three years ago. The farm has begun a breeding operation, with hopes of selling naturally raised beef starting next year.

Talbot says: “Our clients are impressed by [the cows]. They have long, soft hair and horns and are well adapted to the rustic environment in Quebec. In winter they don’t struggle the way that regular cows do. They are really well-adapted thanks to their hair.”

The cows are only fed grass, no soy or corn, and they “live in semi-liberty. The only thing we do is bring them water and stuff in winter. Other than that, everything happens in nature. They sleep in the forest, they walk around together, they do their own rotation.”

The farm’s main goal is to “create something that is eco-responsible, both with the blueberries and the vineyard.” Despite the addition of cultivated plants and animals, the aim is to keep the land as close to its original state as possible. “We really value an ecosystem. We want our berries to grow without damaging the plants that are there naturally. Of course, we set everything up commercially; our berries are planted in rows. But we spread things out to try to leave everything as intact as possible.”

The location is set up so that you can walk through the fields and observe the animals and scenery. Talbot says, “The feedback we hear from clients who come to visit us is that it’s a place where there’s no stress and we can create a calming environment. People can eat the berries right from the plants; there’s absolutely nothing on them from start to finish.”

Like many places this year, La Grande Ourse was hit hard by both spring frost and caterpillars. “We lost about 30-40 per cent from the frost, and from the caterpillars it was about 20-30 per cent. Last year was exceptional. This year will be passable. Still, in organic farming you can’t control everything.”

 

A herd of Highland cows awaits visitors at this blueberry farm in Saint Chrysostome PHOTO Bleuetière La Grande Ourse

 

Talbot explains that they are trying to learn from this year and discover solutions. “It’s all in an ecosystem and an agriculture that is viable and ecological. Now there are problems everywhere with the caterpillars, but we’re approaching it with alternative methods, to not always jump right to chemical pesticides.”

With these new challenges he believes that “In looking at the problems we often find the answers. It’s important to us to not just eliminate the problems but to figure out how and why we have them.”

Talbot really wants to emphasize how many amazing products the Valley has to offer. “The biggest thing we’ve heard since the beginning of the pandemic was self-sufficiency. People were returning to shopping locally and that’s encouraging for people like us.”

He emphasizes that the Valley is filled with produce, meats, microbreweries, and more, which deserve more recognition because “People put enormous amounts of time into their work … and when shopping locally we also discover products that are exceptional!”

La Grande Ourse is not open for the season just yet, but updates can be found on the Facebook page, Bleuetière La Grande Ourse bleuets et raisins biologiques.

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